It is commonly believed that students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) aren’t eligible to obtain special education services during the summer. In reality, educational administrators must provide extended school year (ESY) programs annually to students with disabilities. ESY refers to related services and special education administered outside of the regular school year to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
For those who aren’t familiar with extended school year, it should not be mistaken for an extension of the school year or a summer enrichment program. Instead, ESY is essential and beneficial for students who require these services to maintain the skills needed to advance in the general education curriculum.
Below, I’ve created an “ESY FAQ,” breaking down the questions I frequently receive into their relevant categories.
Determining ESY Eligibility
Q. How do schools identify which students require ESY?
A. In short, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team determines student eligibility based on data collection. However, staff often address eligibility through only one lens: regression (losing learned skills) and recoupment (the time required to reaccumulate skills). When determining eligibility, there are multiple factors beyond regression and recoupment to include, such as:
- Rate of progress
- Crucial skill attainment
- Consistency with addressing interfering behavior
- Nature and severity of the disability
The Central Role of Data Collection
Q. Is there is a prescribed formula to determine eligibility?
A. No, there is no prescribed formula. Instead, the team must rely on data collected on the goals and objectives to aid their decision. After the team reviews this information, the results should indicate significant skill deficits that seriously impede the students’ progress in meeting their goals or gaining “meaningful educational benefit,” as referenced in the Endrew Decision.
Data collection also addresses critical skills beyond academics, including self-help, behavior, communication, handwriting, gross motor, and more. If the data indicates a need for ESY, the IEP team must identify the goals and services–specifically, instructional and related services–included in the student’s program.
Timeline for ESY Consideration
Q. When is the most suitable time to determine ESY eligibility?
A. There is no specific time frame. Instead, the IEP team should consider ESY eligibility as part of the process when making informed decisions based on progress monitoring throughout the school year.
As I’ve worked with educators during my career, they would often describe students’ inconsistent progress or demonstrated behavioral patterns that limited their advancement. I would pointedly ask, “Do you think this student requires ESY?” They would respond that it was “not the time” to address it. After all, the school wasn’t on an extended break to collect the data.
But in fact: the team can schedule an IEP meeting at any time to discuss the possibility of ESY and determine eligibility.
So, to reiterate: you do not need to wait for significant breaks on the school calendar to collect data. Instead, you can make decisions at any time during the school year.
Selecting a Delivery Method
Q. Should ESY be in-person, virtual, or hybrid? Should ESY be traditional classroom learning only, or can it be more informal?
A. ESY must adhere to the same regulations required when building a student’s IEP, so this decision should not be “one size fits all.” All schools must develop an appropriate, individualized program. The program, if not individualized, would violate FAPE, and schools could face legal challenges.
Most schools offer programs that reflect the traditional classroom’s continuation, generally consisting of instruction spanning a specific number of weeks, hours per day, and days per week. During this time, schools tailor instruction to address academic and related service goals and then measure students’ progress towards achieving these goals.
However, ESY services don’t have to adhere to this traditional model. As long as student needs are addressed, and data is collected, ESY can take various forms. Schools can choose to be more creative, informal, and motivating. For example, student participation in drama clubs, cooking classes, technology camps, and horseback riding programs–to name a few–can successfully address the ESY program plan.
As an example: I recall having a student who participated in a whale-watching camp for one week. The ESY program addressed social and behavioral objectives while providing an exciting, motivating experience for the student, making learning fun! The data collected indicated his active engagement for the camp’s entire duration, and his skills grew effortlessly embedded and generalized across multiple settings.
The Effect of COVID-19 on ESY Accessibility
Q. Will virtual ESY continue beyond the pandemic?
A. Yes, most likely.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 presented a novel challenge to ESY programming. Before the pandemic, few districts and schools considered using virtual programs as a viable approach to ESY programs. However, last school year, administrators faced the challenge of administering ESY virtually. For the most part, virtual ESY resembled the “traditional model.”
For many who utilized this approach, the implementation logistics seemingly caused an array of difficulties, including technology access, student schedules, and a lack of instructor experience. As a result, many administrators eventually viewed using virtual services as a last resort.
However, not all administrators shared this perspective. In some locations, schools readily embraced online learning because it opened many doors to ESY activities that students couldn’t previously participate in due to their geographical location or a lack of certified instructors. Essentially, these students received services in a manner that addressed their needs through various pathways.
For example, students participated in virtual summer opportunities sponsored by universities addressing specific disabilities. ESY now became accessible everywhere, regardless of zip code or time zone. Students could participate from home or another location, thereby increasing attendance. They could access opportunities to enroll in virtual summer camps, clubs, and other regional or nationally-based activities. Without exposure or permission to access these opportunities, students would have missed out on incredible experiences.
What are YOUR school’s plans for ESY? Do you need assistance building an in-person, hybrid, or virtual program or therapists and teachers to deliver related services? I can help! Reach out to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Marie Geissel, M.Ed., ABD
Therapy Source National Special Education Director
Ann Marie has 30+ years of special education experience, as a teacher, principal, special education supervisor, and special education director within urban, suburban school districts and charter schools. Her background and qualifications make her well-positioned to assist Therapy Source’s education clients with compliance monitoring and daily operation. Ann Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from LaSalle University, and a Master of Education in Special Education from Arcadia University. Additionally, she has been certified as a principal and special education advisor – and possesses a Letter of Eligibility for Superintendent – through Temple University’s and Widener University’s Doctoral Programs in Educational Administration.